Album review: Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now

John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.
John Preston

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Jesca Hoop has taken a while to find her sweet spot. Her debut, Kismet, was released in 2009 and parts of Memories Are Now, her fourth solo album, are still clearly identifiable as coming from that same artist. But the singer-songwriter, almost a term too cosy and throw-away for a performer of Hoop’s magnitude and edge, has stripped away some of the distractions. Like her debut, Hoop’s last, and very strong, album from 2012, The House That Jack Built, tried to position her as a wonky-pop star, two parts Björk and one part PJ Harvey. It was her work in between these albums however, like last year’s album with Sam Beam, that gave the most clues to Hoop’s preferred choice of sound and one which luckily seems best suited for spotlighting her intriguing persona.

The self-affirming and empowering majesty of the title track which opens the album showcases all of Hoop’s skills simultaneously; one of the best songwriter’s currently around and a startling and direct lyricist with a glorious voice which swoops highs and lows commanding attention. This and ‘The Lost Sky‘, the stark sister song that follows, are both acoustic with layered and opposing harmonies and are both crisply dramatic. Before, these songs may have been enforced with sonic, trip-hop wizardry but on the whole Hoop stays clear of any such embellishments here, and with great success. ‘Animal Kingdom Chaotic’ may incorporate a constant keyboard tapping but this cleverly enhances the unavoidable and sometimes intrusive and maniacal nature of online culture (the song’s subject and critique of).

 

The trio of songs that close the album are bare and guitar-led, with the final track, ‘The Close’, providing the biggest impact whilst also being one of the most personal and riveting tracks of Hoops career so far. Musically and melodically, it’s surely an homage to Prince – it opens with ‘Purple Rain’ guitars whilst ‘Little Red Corvette’ can certainly be heard in the chorus structure – but stops short of sounding like an actual Prince production. It is autobiographical and documents the steps taken whilst Hoops wakes up to ‘losing her religion’ (years growing up in a Mormon environment). It’s a big statement, revelatory with a directness that’s gasp-inducing. Memories Are Now are about just that and Jesca Hoop has generously allowed us access to the demons that dictated her past and to the tremendous freedom and peace that she has found with taking control and moving forward.